Wednesday, September 22, 2010

McLaren UnValed

Stretching south of Adelaide into the undulating slopes dotted with massive old blue gums one finds the beautiful region of McLaren Vale, formerly known as The Southern Vales. Even if this region is just recently being acknowledge as an important wine region in Australia its suitability for vine cultivation dates back to 1838, when John Rynella planted his first vineyards in the area. Being close to the Gulf of St.Vincent this region has a reasonably temperate climate with grapes ripening at different periods according to their proximity to the sea or location more inland on the hills. Soils also vary considerably; in fact there is currently a new movement taking place in this region whereby winemakers are promoting their region and their wines according to their positioning on a recently issued geological map.

From the above McLaren Vale already sounds like an interesting region yet what makes it different from the many others? Why should a wine lover take the time to visit this region at least once? My answer would simply be diversity. Last weekend I had the pleasure of visiting this wine region for the first time and taste its wines. Compared to the other important regions of South Australia, namely Barossa and Coonawarra, McLaren Vale is a region still searching for a style of wine which will raise the region’s reputation further and make it a distinctive wine region on the world wine map. Even if Shiraz has been the most important grape for this region most wine makers still experiment with a variety of grapes and wine styles. Given the geographical diversity of the region, viticulture practices can be adopted according to the grape varieties chosen. Grenache which is a heat loving variety can thrive in the warmer coastal zones whilst other varieties like the Italian Nebbiolo and Sangiovese which need good acidity to retain their balance are more suitable to the cooler hills of the Vale. Apart from the favourable geographical composition of the region, most of the families in the Vale have travelled across Europe and brought with them grapes suitable for the area; Verdelho, Fiano, Marsanne, Rousanne, Sagrantino are just a few of the grape varieties grown.

Apart from the diversity in grape variety and styles this region also thrives in diversifying itself on different levels. Two of the wineries I visited, Pertaringa and Paxton are both practising biodynamic viticulture. Even if many retain such styles of viticulture practices as marketing fiction, when visiting this wine region one can feel the move towards a greener environment even from the way cellar door staff talk about the region and the importance of its conservation. Another point of differentiation is the constant improvement on food and wine culture. Restaurants are budding across the region with most wineries having highly-rated restaurants next to their cellar doors; The Kitchen Door at Penny Hill Winery, d’Arry’s Verandah at d’Arenberg, the newly refurbished Salopian Inn just to name a few.

Being a European with surely more experience within the French and Italian wine borders, visiting McLaren Vale was truly a learning experience. Understanding the roots of a region goes beyond to tasting wines at the cellar; talking to winemakers and discussing marketing aspects with a number of people of the region (given my thesis research) has helped me appreciate the Aussie wine culture even more.

A few wines I enjoyed on my short trip:

Fiano, Coriole 2010

Distinctive lemons and limes on the nose. Racing acidity on the palate with a mouth-washing minerality on the finish. In need to try older vintages. :)

Vita Sangiovese, Coriole 2007

Jammy strawberries and cherries with cedar notes. Good balanced tannins with nice acidity and fruit. A very balanced Sangiovese; one of the few tasted so far.

AAA Shiraz/Grenache, Paxton 2009

Full on cherry nose with hints of vanilla. Nice soft tannins on the palate with balanced fruit and a liquorish finish.

Angel Gully Shiraz, Primo Estate 2004

Cooked raspberries with pepper and spice. Mon Cheri chocolate with savoury notes on palate. Nice supple tannins with good long finish.

Bonfire Block Semillon, Pertaringa 2008

Oak is predominant at first. Peaches, mango and lemon tart fill the glass as soon as the wine opens up. Lovely structure on palate.

Two Gentlemens Grenache, Pertaringa 2008

Bright ruby colour. Juicy strawberries and raspberries on the nose. Great balance on palate with ripe tannins and good balancing acidity. Honours its name.

The Derelict Grenache, d’Arenberg 2005

Just picked raspberries with hints of jammy strawberries and cranberries on the nose. Supple tannins; mouth-coating yet not overpowering the good acidity. Vibrant yet elegant.

The Dead Arm Shiraz, d’Arenberg 2007

Rich and intense on both nose and palate. Plums and black fruit notes with pepper and spice on nose. Palate is very dense with chewy tannins. A wine which needs laying down before being fully appreciated.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

The art of branding

When it comes to wine I am really passionate and never really try to get out of my cocoon. Let me explain, throughout this last year during my wine business masters I have pushed myself further and tried to understand wine from a consumer point of view rather than from that of a wine lover. It’s really hard for someone who is so into the subject. Throughout the last 5 years of my life I have just travelled to wine regions in Europe just to discover new wine styles and acquire knowledge from different angles within this industry. Getting off tracked into what you like most other than what the consumer wants becomes natural.

I have been told this over and over again by my lecturers and even colleagues and I am just recently really distinguishing the difference. Well, today was a perfect lesson for me as a consumer in Australia. This insight into marketing actually dawned on me a couple of weeks ago on my first trip to the supermarket in my new home town Penola. There was I, ready to spend my first dollars yet I couldn’t get down to deciding what to get. I knew I needed vegetables and well those all “look” the same but when it came down to choosing toiletries it was a nightmare. No brand on the shelf that I could really recognise, nothing I could identify. Toothpaste.. yeah I found a brand I know.. Colgate.. mmm but I usually buy Aquafresh.. guess I have to do with Colgate down under.

Today is my first day in the city of Adelaide, the first city to visit in Australia. So, whilst Dru was tasting some “yummy” 2008 wines (“yummy” since most wines where from the Barossa and McLaren Vale and 2008 was unfortunately a hot vintage for them) I took the time to do some shopping in the city. Living in Penola doesn’t give you much options for shopping.. two ladies clothes shop is as good as it gets! So, I decided to hit the shopping centres in Adelaide for some good shopping. And well yeah.. It was a bit of a nightmare. First mall of choice was David Jones since the girls at the cellar door told me it holds all the big brands. Good!!! Well not so good.. the only few brands I could recognise were Armani, Gucci and Prada which is really like names of the first growths of Bordeaux which, lets face it, I cannot afford them even if they were sold en primeur. :)

Then I found a brand I know, Guess. Guess brand for clothing would be a medium to highish price range in most Europe similar to buying a nice Paleo from Le Macchiole or a Sito M
oresco from Gaia. I couldn’t find the Antinori, Bouchard, Rosemount range in any of the shops around; that is I couldn’t find Mango, Zara, Monsoon brands anywhere in Adelaide. Like most wine consumers I was lost; browsing through shops trying to make out what I want to buy but not really knowing if what I was buying was worth the money. Is this price related to quality? I couldn’t know cos I never tried it. And like most consumers I opted for the brands I know and bought a Guess bag which was a safe bet.

So really, if you are a wine maker how can you brand your wine? How will the consumer feel safe to make the right choice and pick your wine out of the rest? Price is always a good indicator.. I looked at the price continuously today (even if lost in Dollar/Euro conversion) since it gives me a quality indicator. Putting myself into a random wine consumers’ shoes, how do I really choose a wine? Most people just go with what they are familiar with; if it’s not the wine brand, then it’s the regional brand or the country brand. I know that what you just read above is just pure simple knowledge yet I think that branding plays an important part of our lives even if we think it doesn’t or we simply take it for granted. No matter how passionate I can be about wine and no matter how biased I am about big brands, they play the major role in the market: being different to be chosen is really key in a consumer world like ours.